Munchkining for Fun and Profit, Ideas, Experience, Successes, Failures 2014-12-19T05:39:49.278Z
Aubrey de Grey has responded to his IAMA - Now with Transcript! 2012-06-30T06:47:40.455Z
Q&A with Aubrey de Grey on May 15 2012-05-13T20:45:34.280Z


Comment by Username on Instrumental Rationality Questions Thread · 2015-08-25T23:22:21.208Z · LW · GW

Scott Adams tweeted that you can't be with someone less happy than you. I'm trying it anyway.

Does anyone have any experience with this? In particular, is there a way to not always sacrifice my happiness for theirs at rapidly diminishing rates of return until we are equally (un)happy?

Comment by Username on Open Thread - Aug 24 - Aug 30 · 2015-08-24T18:11:28.991Z · LW · GW

Professor Alan Bittles, director for the centre for human genetics in Perth, Australia has collated data on infant mortality in children born within first-cousin marriages from around the world and found that the extra increased risk of death is 1.2%.

In terms of birth defects, he says, the risks rise from about 2% in the general population to 4% when the parents are closely related.

Comment by Username on Open Thread - Aug 24 - Aug 30 · 2015-08-24T16:26:33.324Z · LW · GW

Heh. Qualify this under "crazy ideas". Chinese tech companies are motivating programmers by hiring cheerleaders. It would be interesting to know if this increases productivity. Do cheerleaders help improve results sports teams?

Comment by Username on Open Thread - Aug 24 - Aug 30 · 2015-08-24T13:10:45.278Z · LW · GW

Comment by Username on Open Thread - Aug 24 - Aug 30 · 2015-08-24T13:09:21.911Z · LW · GW

ethically okay

Dude, be a consequentialist. Don't use expressions like "ethically okay" or "morally wrong". Use "superior to", "inferior to".

Comment by Username on Instrumental Rationality Questions Thread · 2015-08-23T00:25:16.909Z · LW · GW

If there's one thing I enjoy about this site, it's reading practical advice from its members.

*fixed the 3AM typo

Comment by Username on Rationality Quotes Thread August 2015 · 2015-08-22T23:06:27.868Z · LW · GW

If Ra sees this as a voting game, getting into politically charged arguments with newbies and then down voting them is efficient.

They give him a target that lets him post a lot of replies, and with low karma they can't down vote him back.

He can use a second account to vote up 30% of his replies, giving him a good amount of karma at low risk of discovery.

He gets a chance to run off a newbie that doesn't agree with him.

And we all gain from this. We don't need users that can't ignore a troll.

Comment by Username on Group rationality diary for July 12th - August 1st 2015 · 2015-08-20T13:13:21.347Z · LW · GW

Please don't post image macros.

Comment by Username on Open thread, Aug. 10 - Aug. 16, 2015 · 2015-08-19T19:23:47.043Z · LW · GW

My approach was very simple: find the best public school system in my area and move there. "Best" is defined mostly by IQ of high-school seniors proxied by SAT scores. What colleges the school graduates go to mattered as well, but it is highly correlated with the SAT scores.

What I find important is not the school curriculum which will suck regardless. The crucial thing, IMHO, is the attitude of the students. In the school that my kids went to, the attitude was that being stupid was very uncool. Getting good grades was regarded as entirely normal and necessary for high social status (not counting the separate clusters of athletes and kids with very rich parents). The basic idea was "What, are you that dumb you can't even get an A in physics??" and not having a few AP classes was a noticeable negative. This all is still speaking about social prestige among the students and has nothing to do with teachers or parents.

I think that this attitude of "it's uncool to be stupid" is a very very important part of what makes good schools good.

Comment by Username on Rational approach to finding life partners · 2015-08-18T07:50:30.049Z · LW · GW

Having these organic experiences lead to the development of skills which don't exist in isolation, but instead play a role in knowing how to deal with women successfully in the rest of life.

I often hear claims like that here on LW, but they sound very implausible to me. I never had a girlfriend until I was 26 but I'm not under the impression that before then I was deficient in otherwise dealing with female friends/professors/etc. in a way that I no longer am, or in a way that I was not with male friends/professors/etc. (In particular, in most of my late teens and early twenties I had many more female friends than male friends.) Do you (or anybody else who's been making such claims) have any evidence (that could be easily shared on a Web forum) of that?

Comment by Username on Integral vs differential ethics, continued · 2015-08-17T10:35:18.026Z · LW · GW

The Puzzle of the Self-torturer talks about transitive and intransitive preferences.

Comment by Username on Open thread, Aug. 17 - Aug. 23, 2015 · 2015-08-17T10:13:26.261Z · LW · GW

Bentham’s Fallacies, Then and Now by Peter Singer

Bentham collected examples of fallacies, often from parliamentary debates. By 1811, he had sorted them into nearly 50 different types, with titles like “Attack us, you attack Government,” the “No precedent argument,” and the “Good in theory, bad in practice” fallacy. (One thing on which both Immanuel Kant and Bentham agree is that this last example is a fallacy: If something is bad in practice, there must be a flaw in the theory.)

Bentham was thus a pioneer of an area of science that has made considerable progress in recent years. He would have relished the work of psychologists showing that we have a confirmation bias (we favor and remember information that supports, rather than contradicts, our beliefs); that we systematically overestimate the accuracy of our beliefs (the overconfidence effect); and that we have a propensity to respond to the plight of a single identifiable individual rather than a large number of people about whom we have only statistical information.

1824 edition of the book

Comment by Username on Open thread, Aug. 17 - Aug. 23, 2015 · 2015-08-17T10:09:18.641Z · LW · GW

The good, the bad, and the ineffective: social programs in America

Do people know which social interventions work just from hearing about them?

To do a test, we made the following game. We've described ten major US social interventions, and you'll have to guess whether they had a positive effect, no effect or negative effect.

The interventions were taken from those reviewed by the Campbell Collaboration, which brings together all the highest-quality research that's available on major social interventions to decide whether they're effective or not. We chose the top ten interventions that were easiest to explain and had the clearest conclusions, so it's clear what the answers are. There's no trick!

Comment by Username on Open thread, Aug. 17 - Aug. 23, 2015 · 2015-08-17T10:06:37.950Z · LW · GW

Remote Exploitation of anUnaltered Passenger Vehicle by Dr. Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek

Target – 2014 Jeep Cherokee

The 2014 Jeep Cherokee was chosen because we felt like it would provide us the best opportunity tosuccessfully demonstrate that a remote compromise of a vehicle could result in sending messages thatcould invade a driver’s privacy and perform physical actions on the attacker’s behalf. As pointed out inour previous research [6], this vehicle seemed to present fewer potential obstacles for an attacker. Thisis not to say that other manufacturer’s vehicles are not hackable, or even that they are more secure,only to show that with some research we felt this was our best target. Even more importantly, the Jeepfell within our budgetary constraints when adding all the technological features desired by the authorsof this paper.

Network Architecture

The architecture of the 2014 Jeep Cherokee was very intriguing to us due to the fact that the head unit(Radio) is connected to both CAN buses that are implemented in the vehicle.

We speculated that if the Radio could be compromised, then we would have access to ECUs on both theCAN-IHS and CAN-C networks, meaning that messages could be sent to all ECUs that control physicalattributes of the vehicle. You’ll see later in this paper that our remote compromise of the head unit doesnot directly lead to access to the CAN buses and further exploitation stages were necessary. With thatbeing said, there are no CAN bus architectural restrictions, such as the steering being on a physicallyseparate bus. If we can send messages from the head unit, we should be able to send them to everyECU on the CAN bus



This paper was a culmination of three years of research into automotive security. In it, wedemonstrated a remote attack that can be performed against many Fiat-Chrysler vehicles. The numberof vehicles that were vulnerable were in the hundreds of thousands and it forced a 1.4 million vehiclerecall by FCA as well as changes to the Sprint carrier network. This remote attack could be performedagainst vehicles located anywhere in the United States and requires no modifications to the vehicle orphysical interaction by the attacker or driver. As a result of the remote attack, certain physical systems such as steering and braking are affected. We provide this research in the hopes that we can learn tobuild more secure vehicles in the future so that drivers can trust they are safe from a cyber attack whiledriving. This information can be used by manufacturers, suppliers, and security researchers to continuelooking into the Jeep Cherokee and other vehicles in a community effort to secure modern automobiles

Comment by Username on Open thread, Aug. 17 - Aug. 23, 2015 · 2015-08-17T09:47:26.644Z · LW · GW

Fifty psychological and psychiatric terms to avoid: a list of inaccurate, misleading, misused, ambiguous, and logically confused words and phrases by Scott O. Lilienfeld1, Katheryn C. Sauvigné, Steven Jay Lynn, Robin L. Cautin, Robert D. Latzman and Irwin D. Waldman

The goal of this article is to promote clear thinking and clear writing among students and teachers of psychological science by curbing terminological misinformation and confusion. To this end, we present a provisional list of 50 commonly used terms in psychology, psychiatry, and allied fields that should be avoided, or at most used sparingly and with explicit caveats. We provide corrective information for students, instructors, and researchers regarding these terms, which we organize for expository purposes into five categories: inaccurate or misleading terms, frequently misused terms, ambiguous terms, oxymorons, and pleonasms. For each term, we (a) explain why it is problematic, (b) delineate one or more examples of its misuse, and (c) when pertinent, offer recommendations for preferable terms. By being more judicious in their use of terminology, psychologists and psychiatrists can foster clearer thinking in their students and the field at large regarding mental phenomena.

Comment by Username on Crazy Ideas Thread, Aug. 2015 · 2015-08-15T15:59:47.350Z · LW · GW

Murder is basically a victimless crime, because when you murder someone, there is no one left to be a victim. Murderers should be punished only for inconveniences that murder caused to other people who are still living.

Causing extinction of humanity would be a perfect victimless crime.

Comment by Username on The horrifying importance of domain knowledge · 2015-08-14T22:15:31.045Z · LW · GW

As far as I can see, VoiceOfRa is the lone neoreactionary actively posting.

He isn't. Neoreactionaries are normal people.

Comment by Username on Crazy Ideas Thread, Aug. 2015 · 2015-08-13T11:57:51.206Z · LW · GW

Metrication of kitchen units: no.


Comment by Username on Stupid Questions August 2015 · 2015-08-13T01:00:14.419Z · LW · GW


Comment by Username on Open thread, Aug. 10 - Aug. 16, 2015 · 2015-08-12T19:21:05.178Z · LW · GW

Tacit Knowledge: A Wittgensteinian Approach by Zhenhua Yu

In the ongoing discussion of tacit knowing/knowledge, the Scandinavian Wittgensteinians are a very active force. In close connection with the Swedish Center for Working Life in Stockholm, their work provides us with a wonderful example of the fruitful collaboration between philosophical reflection and empirical research. In the Wittgensteinian approach to the problem of tacit knowing/knowledge, Kell S. Johannessen is the leading figure. In addition, philosophers like Harald Grimen, Bengt Molander and Allan Janik also make contributions to the discussion in their own ways. In this paper, I will try to clarify the main points of their contribution to the discussion of tacit knowing/knowledge.


Johannessen observes:

It has in fact been recognized in various camps that propositional knowledge, i.e, knowledge expressible by some kind of linguistic means in a propositional form, is not the only type of knowledge that is scientifically relevant. Some have, therefore, even if somewhat reluctantly, accepted that it might be legitimate to talk about knowledge also in cases where it is not possible to articulate it in full measure by proper linguistic means.

Johannessen, using Polanyi’s terminology, calls the kind of knowledge that cannot be fully articulated by verbal means tacit knowledge.

Comment by Username on Ideas on growth of the community · 2015-08-12T19:00:21.114Z · LW · GW

I am a lazy and selfish person. I want to get more rational myself, but I don't want to put any effort into helping others become more rational.

Comment by Username on Open thread, Aug. 10 - Aug. 16, 2015 · 2015-08-12T16:53:11.174Z · LW · GW

A Scientific Look at Bad Science

By one estimate, from 2001 to 2010, the annual rate of retractions by academic journals increased by a factor of 11 (adjusting for increases in published literature, and excluding articles by repeat offenders) [2]. This surge raises an obvious question: Are retractions increasing because errors and other misdeeds are becoming more common, or because research is now scrutinized more closely? Helpfully, some scientists have taken to conducting studies of retracted studies, and their work sheds new light on the situation.

“Retractions are born of many mothers,” write Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus, the co-founders of the blog Retraction Watch, which has logged thousands of retractions in the past five years. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reviewed 2,047 retractions of biomedical and life-sciences articles and found that just 21.3 percent stemmed from straightforward error, while 67.4 percent resulted from misconduct, including fraud or suspected fraud (43.4 percent) and plagiarism (9.8 percent) [3].

Surveys of scientists have tried to gauge the extent of undiscovered misconduct. According to a 2009 meta-analysis of these surveys, about 2 percent of scientists admitted to having fabricated, falsified, or modified data or results at least once, and as many as a third confessed “a variety of other questionable research practices including ‘dropping data points based on a gut feeling,’ and ‘changing the design, methodology or results of a study in response to pressures from a funding source’ ” [4].

Comment by Username on Crazy Ideas Thread, Aug. 2015 · 2015-08-12T03:38:44.901Z · LW · GW
  1. What other cost is there? If you have something like fear in mind, you can give them a tranquilizer before.
  2. No, but you can explain the deal to them pretty early on. Certainly better than not living.

This would also solve the organ shortage.

Comment by Username on Crazy Ideas Thread, Aug. 2015 · 2015-08-12T03:04:44.615Z · LW · GW

Legalize slavery, with the following rules:

1) Non-slaves can never become slaves.

2) Slaves can only be born by other slaves, or by parents who choose to conceive a slave child (which creates the initial stock and an influx of new slaves).

3) Slaves have no rights other than to access drugs, including the best drugs for suicide. They cannot be prevented from taking them by anyone, including their owners.

Effects of this policy: Additional people would be born that will not be born otherwise. These additional people would be of use to the existing people, because they have no rights to welfare or other redistribution. They would also benefit from their existence, since they can always end it if they feel otherwise.

The assumption is that the birh rates are lower than carrying capacity allows, and potential lives are lost because no one wants to pay for their costs. This policy would create an incentive to have more children, without harming anyone. The benefit to these additional children would be small, as their lives would not be very good, but still positive, since their lives would be voluntary.

Comment by Username on Crazy Ideas Thread, Aug. 2015 · 2015-08-11T21:12:38.960Z · LW · GW

Keep kindergartens dirty to help children avoid developing allergies.

Comment by Username on Crazy Ideas Thread, Aug. 2015 · 2015-08-11T21:06:28.179Z · LW · GW

This is called emancipation of minors.

Comment by Username on Open thread, Aug. 10 - Aug. 16, 2015 · 2015-08-11T19:04:25.820Z · LW · GW

Employment at a single company is the plan.

Comment by Username on Open thread, Aug. 10 - Aug. 16, 2015 · 2015-08-11T17:32:11.528Z · LW · GW

Previously on LW, I have seen the suggestion made that having short hair can be a good idea, and it seems like this can be especially true in professional contexts. For an entry-level male web developer who will be shortly moving to San Francisco, is this still true? I'm not sure if the culture there is different enough that long hair might actually be a plus. What about beards?

(I didn't post in this OT yet).

Comment by Username on Crazy Ideas Thread, Aug. 2015 · 2015-08-11T14:20:25.008Z · LW · GW

Legalize doping and other artificial human enhancements in sports, but require them to reveal what drugs they are using. Create new sports if you want to encourage specific enhancements.

It would lead to arms races between medical teams and pharmaceutical companies and even if it would harm sportsmen themselves, the fact that new drugs would constantly be invented and perfected would help even ordinary people, because after a while those new drugs and other human enhancements would become available on the market.

Use already existing Paralympic Games to test artificial limbs.

Comment by Username on Stupid Questions August 2015 · 2015-08-11T04:34:20.277Z · LW · GW

If I have an account but want to change my user name, is there a way to do that?

Comment by Username on Open thread, Aug. 10 - Aug. 16, 2015 · 2015-08-10T21:40:17.256Z · LW · GW

The similar formatting of the comments suggests that in this thread it's mostly one person with a lot of links to share.

Personally, I just haven't been bothered to make an account, and have been using the username account exclusively for about 5 years. I'd estimate 30-50% of all the posts on the account were made by me over this timeframe, though writing style suggests to me that a good number of people have used it as a one-shot throwaway, and several people have used it many times.

Comment by Username on Open thread, Aug. 10 - Aug. 16, 2015 · 2015-08-10T18:17:35.715Z · LW · GW


Comment by Username on Open thread, Aug. 10 - Aug. 16, 2015 · 2015-08-10T17:49:58.987Z · LW · GW

Random thought: It would be sensible for this post to get 85 downvotes. But maybe I'm just being paranoid.

Comment by Username on Versions of AIXI can be arbitrarily stupid · 2015-08-10T17:21:03.899Z · LW · GW

No, maximizing expected utility (still) should not be abandoned.

Comment by Username on Effects of Castration on the Life Expectancy of Contemporary Men · 2015-08-10T14:20:03.092Z · LW · GW

Stupid question: if you think that huge improvements in medicine and radical life extension are just around the corner, should you castrate yourself or your children to increase your chances to survive up to that point in order to uncastrate yourself later with the help of new improved medicine? Potentially high rewards strategy, even if it's very risky.

Comment by Username on Rationality Quotes Thread August 2015 · 2015-08-10T14:08:32.205Z · LW · GW

Violence requires at least two people, you can be irrational even when you are alone.

Comment by Username on Open thread, Aug. 10 - Aug. 16, 2015 · 2015-08-10T13:37:47.498Z · LW · GW

An Introverted Writer’s Lament by Meghan Tifft

Whether we’re behind the podium or awaiting our turn, numbing our bottoms on the chill of metal foldout chairs or trying to work some life into our terror-stricken tongues, we introverts feel the pain of the public performance. This is because there are requirements to being a writer. Other than being a writer, I mean. Firstly, there’s the need to become part of the writing “community”, which compels every writer who craves self respect and success to attend community events, help to organize them, buzz over them, and—despite blitzed nerves and staggering bowels—present and perform at them. We get through it. We bully ourselves into it. We dose ourselves with beta blockers. We drink. We become our own worst enemies for a night of validation and participation.

Comment by Username on Open thread, Aug. 10 - Aug. 16, 2015 · 2015-08-10T13:31:42.973Z · LW · GW

Impulsive Rich Kid, Impulsive Poor Kid, an article about using CBT to fight impulsivity that leads to criminal behaviour, especially among young males from poor backgrounds.

How much crime takes place simply because the criminal makes an impulsive, very bad decision? One employee at a juvenile detention center in Illinois estimates the overwhelming percentage of crime takes place because of an impulse versus conscious decision to embark on criminal activity:

“20 percent of our residents are criminals, they just need to be locked up. But the other 80 percent, I always tell them – if I could give them back just ten minutes of their lives, most of them wouldn’t be here.”


The teenager in a poor area [who is] is not behaving any less automatically than the teenager in the affluent area. Instead the problem arises from the variability in contexts—and the fact that some contexts call for retaliation.” To illustrate their theory, they offer an example: If a rich kid gets mugged in a low-crime neighborhood, the adaptive response is to comply -- hand over his wallet, go tell the authorities. If a poor kid gets mugged in a high-crime neighborhood, it is sometimes adaptive to refuse -- stand up for himself, retaliate, run. If he complies, he might get a reputation as someone who is easy to bully, increasing the probability he will be victimized in the future. The two kids, conditioned by their environment, learn very different automatic responses to similar stimuli: someone else asserting authority over them.

The authors of “Thinking, Fast and Slow” extend the example further by asking you to imagine these same two kids in the classroom. If a teacher tells the rich kid to sit down and be quiet, his automatic response to authority on the street -- comply, sit down and be quiet -- is the same as the adaptive response for this situation. If a teacher tells the poor kid to sit down and be quiet, his automatic response to authority on the street -- refuse, retaliate -- is maladapted to this situation. The poor kid knows the contexts are different, but still on a certain level feels like his reputation is at stake when he’s confronted at school, and acts-out, automatically.


The researchers examined clinical studies of programs that keep this in mind and focus on teaching kids to regulate their automaticity. These interventions were designed to help young people, “recognize when they are in a high-stakes situation where their automatic responses might be maladaptive,” and slow down and consider them. One of the interventions studied was the Becoming a Man (BAM) program, conducted in public schools with disadvantaged young males, grades 6-12, on the south and west sides of Chicago.

“What makes the interventions we study particularly interesting is that they do not attempt to delineate specific behaviors as “good,” but rather focus on teaching youths when and how to be less automatic and more contingent in their behavior.”

Researchers randomly assigned students to have the opportunity to participate in BAM, as a course conducted once a week throughout the 2009-2010 school year.

The course is actually a program of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps people identify harmful psychological and behavioral patterns, and then disrupt them and foster healthier ones. It’s used by a wide range of people for a wide range of issues, including to treat depression, anger management, and anxiety disorders. The particular style of CBT used in BAM focuses on three fundamental skills:

  1. Recognize when their automatic responses might get them into trouble,

  2. Slow down in those situations and behave less automatically,

  3. Objectively assess situations and think about what response is called-for. One thing participants are taught in BAM is that “a shift to an aversive emotion” is an important cue for when they are prone to act automatically. Anger, for example, was a common cue among participants in the study group. They were also taught tricks to help them slow down to consider their situation before acting: including deep breathing and other relaxation techniques. Lastly, they were guided through self-reflection and assessment of their own behavior: examining their “automatic” missteps, thinking about how they might have acted differently.

The researchers found that, during the program year, program participants had a 44% lower arrest rate for violent crimes than the control group. They repeated the intervention in 2013-2014 with a new group, and found that program participants had a 31% lower arrest rate for violent crimes than the control group.

Comment by Username on Open thread, Aug. 10 - Aug. 16, 2015 · 2015-08-10T13:13:18.274Z · LW · GW

Composing Music With Recurrent Neural Networks

It’s hard not to be blown away by the surprising power of neural networks these days. With enough training, so called “deep neural networks”, with many nodes and hidden layers, can do impressively well on modeling and predicting all kinds of data. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I recommend reading about recurrent character-level language models, Google Deep Dream, and neural Turing machines. Very cool stuff!) Now seems like as good a time as ever to experiment with what a neural network can do.

For a while now, I’ve been floating around vague ideas about writing a program to compose music. My original idea was based on a fractal decomposition of time and some sort of repetition mechanism, but after reading more about neural networks, I decided that they would be a better fit. So a few weeks ago, I got to work designing my network. And after training for a while, I am happy to report remarkable success!

Comment by Username on Open thread, Aug. 10 - Aug. 16, 2015 · 2015-08-10T13:11:59.183Z · LW · GW

Change your name by Paul Graham

If you have a US startup called X and you don't have, you should probably change your name.

The reason is not just that people can't find you. For companies with mobile apps, especially, having the right domain name is not as critical as it used to be for getting users. The problem with not having the .com of your name is that it signals weakness. Unless you're so big that your reputation precedes you, a marginal domain suggests you're a marginal company. Whereas (as Stripe shows) having signals strength even if it has no relation to what you do.


100% of the top 20 YC companies by valuation have the .com of their name. 94% of the top 50 do. But only 66% of companies in the current batch have the .com of their name. Which suggests there are lessons ahead for most of the rest, one way or another

Comment by Username on Open thread, Aug. 10 - Aug. 16, 2015 · 2015-08-10T13:08:08.134Z · LW · GW

A database of philosophical ideas

Current Total Ideas: 17,046

Comment by Username on Open thread, Aug. 10 - Aug. 16, 2015 · 2015-08-10T13:02:18.818Z · LW · GW

Dead enough by Walter Glannon

To honour donors, we should harvest organs that have the best chance of helping others – before, not after, death

Now imagine that before the stroke our hypothetical patient had expressed a wish to donate his organs after his death. If neurologists could determine that the patient had no chance of recovery, then would that patient really be harmed if transplant surgeons removed life-support, such as ventilators and feeding tubes, and took his organs, instead of waiting for death by natural means? Certainly, the organ recipient would gain: waiting too long before declaring a patient dead could allow the disease process to impair organ function by decreasing blood flow to them, making those organs unsuitable for transplant.

But I contend that the donor would gain too: by harvesting his organs when he can contribute most, we would have honoured his wish to save other lives. And chances are high that we would be taking nothing from him of value. This permanently comatose patient will never see, hear, feel or even perceive the world again whether we leave his organs to whither inside him or not.

Comment by Username on Open thread, Aug. 10 - Aug. 16, 2015 · 2015-08-10T12:55:48.978Z · LW · GW

Why Lonely People Stay Lonely

One long-held theory has been that people become socially isolated because of their poor social skills — and, presumably, as they spend more time alone, the few skills they do have start to erode from lack of use. But new research suggests that this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the socially isolated. Lonely people do understand social skills, and often outperform the non-lonely when asked to demonstrate that understanding. It’s just that when they’re in situations when they need those skills the most, they choke.

In a paper recently published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Franklin & Marshall College professor Megan L. Knowles led four experiments that demonstrated lonely people’s tendency to choke when under social pressure. In one, Knowles and her team tested the social skills of 86 undergraduates, showing them 24 faces on a computer screen and asking them to name the basic human emotion each face was displaying: anger, fear, happiness, or sadness. She told some of the students that she was testing their social skills, and that people who failed at this task tended to have difficulty forming and maintaining friendships. But she framed the test differently for the rest of them, describing it as a this-is-all-theoretical kind of exercise.

Before they started any of that, though, all the students completed surveys that measured how lonely they were. In the end, the lonelier students did worse than the non-lonely students on the emotion-reading task — but only when they were told they were being tested on their social skills. When the lonely were told they were just taking a general knowledge test, they performed better than the non-lonely. Previous research echoes these new results: Past studies have suggested, for example, that the lonelier people are, the better they are at accurately reading facial expressions and decoding tone of voice. As the theory goes, lonely people may be paying closer attention to emotional cues precisely because of their ache to belong somewhere and form interpersonal connections, which results in technically superior social skills.

But like a baseball pitcher with a mean case of the yips or a nervous test-taker sitting down for an exam, being hyperfocused on not screwing up can lead to over-thinking and second-guessing, which, of course, can end up causing the very screwup the person was so bent on avoiding. It’s largely a matter of reducing that performance anxiety, in other words, and Knowles and her colleagues did manage to find one way to do this for their lonely study participants, though, admittedly, it is maybe not exactly applicable outside of a lab. The researchers gave their volunteers an energy-drink-like beverage and told them that any jitters they felt were owing to the caffeine they’d just consumed. (In actuality, the beverage contained no caffeine, but no matter — the study participants believed that it did.) They then did the emotion-reading test, just like in the first experiment. Compared to scores from that first experiment, there was no discernible difference in scores for the non-lonely, but the researchers did see improvement among the lonely participants — even when the task had been framed as a social-skills test.

It may be difficult to trick yourself into believing your nerves are from caffeine and not the fact that you really, really, really want to make a good impression in some social setting, but there are other ways to change your own thinking about anxiety. One of my recent favorites is from Harvard Business School’s Alison Wood Brooks, who found that when she had people reframe their nerves as excitement, they subsequently performed better on some mildly terrifying task, like singing in public. At the very least, this current research presents a fairly new way to think about lonely people. It’s not that they need to brush up on the basics of social skills — that they’ve likely already got down. Instead, lonely people may need to focus more on getting out of their own heads, so they can actually use the skills they’ve got to form friendships and begin to find a way out of their isolation.

Comment by Username on Open thread, Aug. 10 - Aug. 16, 2015 · 2015-08-10T12:46:36.678Z · LW · GW

The moral imperative for bioethics by Steven Pinker.

Biomedical research, then, promises vast increases in life, health, and flourishing. Just imagine how much happier you would be if a prematurely deceased loved one were alive, or a debilitated one were vigorous — and multiply that good by several billion, in perpetuity. Given this potential bonanza, the primary moral goal for today’s bioethics can be summarized in a single sentence.

Get out of the way.

A truly ethical bioethics should not bog down research in red tape, moratoria, or threats of prosecution based on nebulous but sweeping principles such as “dignity,” “sacredness,” or “social justice.” Nor should it thwart research that has likely benefits now or in the near future by sowing panic about speculative harms in the distant future. These include perverse analogies with nuclear weapons and Nazi atrocities, science-fiction dystopias like “Brave New World’’ and “Gattaca,’’ and freak-show scenarios like armies of cloned Hitlers, people selling their eyeballs on eBay, or warehouses of zombies to supply people with spare organs. Of course, individuals must be protected from identifiable harm, but we already have ample safeguards for the safety and informed consent of patients and research subjects.

Comment by Username on Peer-to-peer "knowledge exchanges" · 2015-08-08T19:13:34.485Z · LW · GW

Great idea! But I am crap at tutoring, any knowledge exchange would be very unequal.

Comment by Username on Wear a Helmet While Driving a Car · 2015-08-08T17:46:08.401Z · LW · GW

Thanks for posting this - I'm in a cold climate and have been looking for a beanie with head protection built in. One question - is there a noticeable hard shell under the fabric to the touch?

I've been wanting to get a hat with d3o in it, but I haven't been able to find anything after their announcement a few years ago. Anyone know anything about that?

Comment by Username on Wear a Helmet While Driving a Car · 2015-08-08T17:36:09.338Z · LW · GW

I did my undergrad engineering capstone project at the beginning of this year creating a linear accelerator to subject networks of mouse brain cells to repeated 50g acceleration loads, based specifically off of football helmet impact data.

I was only assisting the PI running the research so I hadn't read all of the literature, but from what I know the jury is out on a good model of risk from repeated head impacts. We can tell you pretty well what the risk is for single impact events, but expect a few years for the first characterization of repeated trauma to be published. This is based on my lab's timing of course - I'm not sure how far along other labs are with this.

Comment by Username on Magnetic rings (the most mediocre superpower) A review. · 2015-08-08T17:20:37.816Z · LW · GW

I have two magnetic implants, and would be happy to answer questions (see also the AMA I did about two years ago: ).

The sensations are as OP described, though mine are small enough that I don't have any issues with knives/ferrous materials moving to stick to my fingers. Judging by OP's 20cm range on microwaves, this smaller size is negated by the fact that my magnets sit a lot closer to the nerves - I believe we feel just about the same strength of fields.

Comment by Username on We really need a "cryonics sales pitch" article. · 2015-08-08T16:49:55.558Z · LW · GW

Or why you should care, or what you should do next. (Learn more, join the org, sign up for cryonics?)

Needs catchy bylines, and about 500 fewer words.

Comment by Username on Rationality Quotes Thread August 2015 · 2015-08-07T21:21:14.246Z · LW · GW

That is something usually better settled by experimentation than by argument.